April 6, 2017
Spontaneous Music Ensemble
The Blue Shroud
Intakt CD 266
By Ken Waxman
Organization and innovation are the concepts most closely associated with British bassist Barry Guy. A classically trained musician, he early on established himself as a masterful soloist in groups led by pianist Howard Riley and others. By his mid-twenties however, Guy, who turns 70 this month, had made in music the same sort of transcendental leap Woody Allen effected in film by demonstrating memorable skills as director as well as actor. Guy’s founding of and compositions for the London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra in 1972 demonstrated that precise notation and free-form improvisation could coexist. From then on, like a hyperactive Jekyll and Hyde, the bassist has enthusiastically directed and played with large ensemble while utilizing his string prowess in a dizzying number of smaller bands.
One key to Guy’s temperament is found on Withdrawal, which marked the recording debut of the bassist and incidentally saxophonist Evan Parker. Ironically their contributions couldn’t be more different. Like viewing a hoary commercial where a famous actor says only one word, Parker was so cowed that his major role is playing introductions on glockenspiel [!]. But Guy’s achievement is the equivalent of discovering a lost film by a respected director.
Confined to creating drones underneath the solos on the CD’s 1966 tracks, on the remaining numbers from 1967, Guy asserts himself with sharpened arco thrusts, resonating plucks and even bent note glissandi on piano. Guy was not yet 20, and his associates – trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, trombonist Paul Rutherford, percussionist John Stevens, multi-reedist Trevor Watts and guitarist Derek Bailey – were not only older, but were in the process of inventing British free music. The bassist’s skill was obvious. Think of it as the ingénue in a scene with the likes of Meryl Streep making as much of an impression as the diva. Otherwise this is primary group music, especially when the septet plays a Webern-influenced suite. There are passages when Watts demonstrates virtuosity playing snarling oboe and rhythmic bass flute and faces contrapuntal challenges when his fluid soprano saxophone lines partner Stevens’ intermittent beats and/or Rutherford’s crying gurgles. Bailey’s choked strings and sharpened patterns are already distinctive, but the stand out soloist is Wheeler. Able to wrap tones in glamorous big band sheen, his asides, note squeezes and mouthpiece wiggles define free music, with solos so translucently dappled that they’re the aural equivalent of color striations in a rock.
The color scheme is different on The Blue Shroud. Like trying to compare a black and white classic with a wide-screen color extravaganza, the program and objective is almost antithetical. Relevant as Donald Trump-sanctioned concept of “alternative facts” proliferate, the performance’s libretto by Irish poet Kerry Hardie refers obliquely to the Spanish Civil War bombing that inspired Pablo Picasso’s anti-war painting Guernica and a 2003 incident where a reproduction of the masterpiece at the United Nations was covered by a blue cloth as Americans made the case to invade Iran. Interspaced among her vocals, which ranges from lyric soprano to a fusillade of gurgles, growls and yodels, Savina Yannatou mouths phrases from both wars. Instrumentally the suite confirms Guy’s skill as an orchestrator, contrasting pacific and belligerent sections, with distinctive Spanish motifs played at intervals by guitarist Ben Dwyer. Fragments of H. I. F. Biber and J.S. Bach airs inserted by violinist Maya Homburger and violist Fanny Paccoud not only to underscore post-battle calm but also wars’ history. Additionally the Biber-Bach’s emergence at the suite’s end, underscored by Guy’s brawny bass continuum, serves as a requiem for the carnage suggested by miasmatic orchestral sequences earlier on. Representing 10 different countries the players reach a crescendo of sophisticatedly delineated tones on the suite’s penultimate sequences. Like a free-jazz battlefield soundtrack, the scene darkens via thundering pumps and smacks from percussionist Lucas Niggli and Ramón López, while artillery recoils in the form of Michel Godard’s tuba growls and farts, altissimo screeches from four saxophonists, quivering string spiccato and Yannatou’s harsh scatting reaches a polyphonic climax, then dribbles away like life seeping from a dying combatant. Throughout The Blue Shroud, Agustí Fernández’s keyboard looms like a war hero among the rank-and-file. Capable of classical-style formations alongside the strings, in orchestral battles he peppers the program with dynamic chord progression, kinetic pitch and pressure movements while thrusting the theme forward as with a tank. Besides his virtuosity on his own instrument, Guy’s musical longevity rests on his refined compositions and arrangements skillfully interpreted by the musicians with whom he’s played for 50 years, or a few months.
Tracks: Withdrawal: Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 1A; 2. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 1B; Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 1C; 4. Withdrawal Soundtrack - Part 2; Withdrawal Sequence 1; Withdrawal Sequence 2 Withdrawal Sequence 3 “C4”; Seeing Sounds And Hearing Colours: Introduction “Puddles, Raindrops & Circles”; Seeing Sounds And Hearing Colours - Movement 1; Seeing Sounds And Hearing Colours - Movement 2 “C”; Seeing Sounds And Hearing Colours - Movement 3
Personnel: Withdrawal: Kenny Wheeler (trumpet, flugelhorn); Paul Rutherford (trombone, percussion); Evan Parker: soprano, , tenor saxophone, glockenspiel); Trevor Watts (oboe, alto saxophone, flute); Derek Bailey (guitar); Barry Guy (bass, piano) and John Stevens (percussion)
Tracks: Blue: Prelude; Song 1; Song 3; Bull/Mother and Child/Warrior; H. I. F. Biber, “The carrying of the cross” Mystery Sonata IX ; “A blinded bird of hope” Song 4; Bird; H. I. F. Biber, Aria from “Crucifixion” Mystery Sonata X, Song 7; Light Bearer; 10 Fugitive:; J. S. Bach “Agnus Dei" from the B minor mass
Personnel: Blue: Percy Pursglove (trumpet); Michel Godard (tuba, serpent); Torben Snekkestad (soprano and tenor saxophones); Michael Niesemann (alto saxophone, oboe d’amore); Per Texas Johansson (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Julius Gabriel (baritone and soprano saxophones); Agustí Fernández (piano); Maya Homburger (violin); Fanny Paccoud: (viola); Ben Dwyer (guitar); Barry Guy (bass); Lucas Niggli (drums, percussion); Ramón López (percussion); Savina Yannatou (voice)
—For The New York City Jazz Record April 2017